Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Sweet Italian Easter Bread

You join me after a busy Easter weekend. Despite the British weather doing its best to put a dampener on things (literally), it was a fun-filled eggstravaganza.

Sorry about that pun.

Anyway, I hope you had a great time too, if you celebrate Easter. And also if you don’t.

My family isn't religious, but I'm a great believer in tradition, especially when it involves me getting two extra days off work. So this Easter I got stuck in painting eggs.

Here are the eggs I painted – the three at the front. I'm most pleased with the one decorated with cherry blossom, but I quite like the minimalism of the black one too.

Before I painted the eggs I had to make small holes in them and blow out the contents, a very laborious process. I also had to thread ribbon through them with a needle that wasn't long enough, which led to me smashing one of them in rage.

By now you’re probably thinking; enough already, get to the baking!

Alright, alright! So I really, really hate wasting food. So I wanted to do something with the contents of the eggs I had painstakingly removed from their delicate shells. An enriched bread was one option.

I could have made hot cross buns, the traditional British fare for Easter. But instead I decided to made Colomba di Pasqua, an Italian bread similar to panettone, eaten at Easter.

Here is my bread. I know it’s usually shaped like a dove, but who really has a dove shaped mould? I certainly don’t.

I made my Colomba di Pasqua to Paul Hollywood’s recipe. The dough is easier to make in a standing mixer as it’s very sticky but you can make it without one and I did. This will serve 8-10 people.

You will need:

For the bread:
400g strong white bread flour
7g salt
40g caster sugar
10g easy bake yeast
120ml lukewarm milk
4 eggs, lightly whisked
100g unsalted butter, softened and cubed
grated zest of 2 lemons and 1 orange
juice of half a lemon
100g flaked almonds
100g mixed candied peel
100g dried cranberries
23cm round cake tin, greased and lined

For the topping:
2 egg whites
25g caster sugar
25g ground almonds
50g flaked almonds

1. Put the flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and sugar to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other side.

2. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the milk and eggs. Mix in with a spoon until it begins to form a dough, then knead with your hands. Add the butter one piece at a time and knead it in.

3. Knead the dough for around 10 minutes until it becomes elastic but is no longer sticky. Roll into a ball and leave in the mixing bowl, covered with cling film. Leave to rise for an hour.

4. Knead the peel, cranberries, zest and lemon juice. Put into the prepared tin and place inside a large plastic bag – I often use a bin bag.

5. Leave to rise for 3 hours until it reaches the top of the tin. When it has nearly finished rising, preheat the oven to 200C.

6. Bake the bread for 20 minutes. While it is baking, mix together the egg whites, ground almonds and sugar for the topping.

7. Take out the bread, spread the topping over it and sprinkle the flaked almonds and a little sugar on top.

8. Lower the oven to 180C and bake for another 20 minutes. If it is browning too rapidly and looks like it may catch on top, cover in foil.

9. Leave the bread to cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then place on a rack to cool completely.

And there you have it. The bread is soft but has an amazing crunchy crust on top and the sour burst of the cranberries stops it from feeling too sweet. You need to have a while to make it as the proving takes a long time, but it’s really not that hard.

Happy baking!